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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

***** Black Ice by Anne Stuart. Romantic suspense.

Wow. I'm a fan of Anne Stuart, but a fairly new one, and I'd been trying to get her backlist before reading the newer books, so the most recent book I'd read was from 1999, and it was a novella. Still, I had faith enough in her older work and in the recommendations of friends who've been raving about her to have bought Black Ice when it first came out. I could have used this book for last month's TBR challenge, too.

Chloe Underwood is a young American woman living her dream--sort of--in Paris. Her job translating children's books doesn't pay much, but it's keeping her in Paris, as long as she has a roommate, so it's enough for now.

When that roommate begs Chloe to take her place as a translator at a meeting of food industry executives (unknown to them both, they're actually arms dealers) at an estate in the French countryside, she's reluctant, but agrees, thinking that if nothing else, she'll get a weekend in the country out of it.

Unfortunately, things don't quite work out that way. Almost immediately, she overhears a suspicious conversation in... German, I think it was, or Russian--anyway, it wasn't French or English, and realizing it would be imprudent at the least to admit she overheard and understood, she pretends to be limited to French and English rather than the several languages she actually knows.

This backfires, however, for undercover assassin Bastien, who sees through her clumsy attempt at hiding her knowledge, so he immediately suspects she's a fellow operative. The only question is, whose side is she on?

From then on, it's nonstop tension with Bastien working on several fronts, trying to complete his mission, trying to figure out who Chloe is and what she's there for, and, to his chagrin, saving her life when the others decide she's too great a risk, at which point his goal becomes to get her out of the country and then complete his mission.

Black Ice is gritty and dark, and mostly lacking in romance genre conventions. The action scenes are reminiscent of those in the better (read: less silly) James Bond movies, and Stuart doesn't hold her punches. Bastien isn't a sweet, gentle man, kind to children and puppies, who just happens to have an unusual job. He's cold and ruthless and deadly. Since it is a romance novel, after all, Chloe does crack his hard shell, but it's not easy or typical.

Despite how harsh the story can be, or maybe because of that, there are some sweet, amusing moments. Like when Chloe, trying to shrug off her growing feelings for Bastien, tells him she has Stockholm Syndrome, and he tells her that Stockholm Syndrome is a myth.

I almost forgot Chloe. Understandable, I suppose, with such a vivid character as Bastien around. Chloe is young, and in way over her head, but she's not stupid. She realizes from the start that things are not as she was led to believe, so she does what she can to confirm her suspicions, then tries to leave. She keeps her head, for the most part, and is realistic as someone of her age and background--not perfect, but not TSTL, either. What impressed me most about Chloe is that she doesn't blindly trust Bastien, either.

The ending caps off the story perfectly. Both Chloe and Bastien have changed because of their experiences together, but they're still recognizable, still the same people.

Black Ice is not your typical romantic suspense novel. There were several places in the book that made me blink and realize just how common those romance or romantic suspense genre conventions are, because I'd fully expected the cliche and didn't get it. Which, of course, made me love it even more.

I'm not going to stop collecting Anne Stuart's backlist, but I think I'll start putting her newest books in my Barnes & Noble shopping cart, too.


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Finally! I waited far too long to read your review on this book :)

Everything you said you like about Black Ice, is the reason I love it too :) I love Stuart's books :)

Can't wait to hear more review from you by Anne Stuart. Great review by the way!

Julia (Julia04kim)
Glad you like this book!!! I LOVE it too, and like you I'm starting to collect her backlist (if I'm able to anyway). ;p

Told you you'd love it!!!!!!! I totally devoured this book when it came out and Anne had me on the edge of my seat--I swear my mouth was hanging open when Bastien just left Chloe to be tortured, but then saved her. Like Wym said: Nobody does a weary assassin like Anne. LOL. I really loved how toward the end, or what we thought was the end, when Chloe told that witch, heck, what WAS her name? That evil villain, to "get her god**n hands off her boyfriend." It was the boyfriend that had me ROFL. Such a tame word, that. The follow up, Cold as Ice is good, but not as good as Black Ice--mainly because with this one, you didn't know who all the players were, or/and whose side they were on. Totally loved it. Just stay away from Ritual Sins. You'll thank me.

Heh. Just for that, I'll probably love Ritual Sins. Maybe. Everybody kept telling me Bujold's Warrior's Apprentice wasn't very good, and I liked it better than the previous two books, so.... *shrug*

I enjoy being contrary. :)
Don't hate me ladies but this author did not do it for me. Didn't like her writing style and the next book after this I thought was a carbon copy. She even used the same phrases to describe some scenes, more than once I found this to be true. The hero I thought was soulless, and I don't mind soulless heroes but they have to redeem themselves. It was only after the second book that he had. Way too late for me. I saw where she took, borrowed or was it stole some things from other authors. Gabaldon and Nora to be exact. She used the names of James and Claire, not that common to be parents of one of the heroines. She used something of Nora's too but off hand I can't recall what it was. The story lines I thought were not bad, but the characters bugged me. I won't be buying more of Anne's books. Sorry.
Annie, sounds like you're just not Anne Stuart's reader. I'm the same way with a few authors--Linda Howard, for example. And then when I don't like the author's style, everything about it bothers me.

I know a lot of people don't like the unredeemable characters, but for some reason, I'm exactly the opposite. We talked about this with regard to thieves before, right? I think it's just something you either like or you don't.

But you know, Gabaldon didn't invent the names James and Claire. *ducking* ;-)
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